Bonfire of the Cinemas

News today that Villeneuve’s Dune has been pushed back from its December release to, not just next year, but as late as October next year -yes, October 2021, a whole year away as I type this- was possibly expected, but still comes as something of a shock. Following on from confirmation that Cineworld cinemas here in the UK -and in the US, too I believe- intend to close for the next four to six months, making as many as 5,500 UK employees redundant, well, its all very alarming. It really feels like we are witnessing a bonfire of the cinemas. 

The Class of 2020, save for a few unlikely candidates like Disney’s Mulan and Warner Bros Tenet, seem to have upped sticks and walked off to the pavilion (to strike a very British cricket analogy) and not coming out to play until 2021. All those films we expected to see, from James Bond to Black Widow to Wonder Woman to Dune, and possibly later own on disc editions on our shelves by late Winter or early Spring, remain unseen, possibly for another six months (and certainly twelve months, in the case of Dune). And of course, those films gate-crashing the 2021 party have left those films already planned for 2021 up in the air (Dune moving to next October has pushed The Batman to March 2022, which seems such a long time away). 

One has to wonder though, how many cinemas will still be around next summer to show those tardy 2020 flicks rubbing shoulders with the ‘proper’ 2021 flicks that refuse to be shoved around. Or perhaps the more important question is who will be running them/owning those cinemas. Maybe the fittest will survive and will be all the better for it, with less competition ensuring fuller cinema screens for those that remain viable, while others have the shutters up for good. Also, if the marketplace gets overly crowded next year, will some films suffer when another blockbuster comes out the following week to steal its seats and punters, or will we see a Nuclear Box-Office Summer with studios bullishly putting out tentpole films out on the same weekends? That’s if we even get a summer box office next year, its hard to say what state things will be in regards Covid.  Will audiences feel confident enough to return to cinemas in droves next summer? I read some pundit claiming that it will take cinemas five years to recover audience numbers to what they were last year, in a similar fashion to how the airline industry is claiming it will be several years before flight numbers recover properly. 

How many times can Eon delay its next Bond movie? At this rate Tom Hardy will be getting too old to play the guy.

And indeed, what does this mean for the already crumbling physical media market without new product- it surely cannot thrive with endless catalogue titles being re-released in 4K and Blu-ray. Its a question if it can even survive like that, nevermind thrive. The 4K format is already fairly niche (one could well argue that even Blu-ray is niche, as DVD still seems to dominate what little shelf-space physical discs enjoy in Supermarket real estate) and what 4K UHD needs in order to in any way progress is titles like the new Bond, or visual spectacles like Dune and other blockbusters. The release schedules for the Autumn already look desperately anaemic, when we should be looking forward to the home releases of all those films that thrilled us in May – July.  Except of course they didn’t. 

Its all frankly mind-boggling. Time to find a good book, maybe….

Last week…

Still working from home, close on six months now. As we slip towards Autumn, it looks like there’s little rush getting the team back into the office, at best it may be for just two days each week, and that’s still some time off.  Its not lost on me that after all the fair weather we’ve had, the time I’m going to finally be expected to commute back to work will be when the frosts return/bad weather/possibly snow etc.

Meanwhile Covid 19 numbers are climbing, particularly here in the Midlands, and our Governments latest desperate roll of the dice, the ‘rule of six’ (limiting the number of people at any social gathering to just six people) begins tomorrow. A rule that can’t possibly be policed,  simply dependant on the public happily following the rule… I mean, its not as if its Mega City One and some Judge will be kicking the door down if there’s more than six perps chatting in the lounge or back garden. Mores the pity with some of the idiots out there. Regards Covid, so many people seem to be in denial, or just bored of it, and think everything is back to normal. Hence the numbers rising? All I can see is lots of idiots out there, most of them proving the (ironically old) adage of too young to know better. The next few weeks seem to be crucial. The days are shortening. Winter is Coming. Hang on, that didn’t end well, just ask HBO.

Anyway, last week. You may have noted that I had a busy/productive week regards watching films: i’m thinking of ending things, Under Suspicion, Bumblebee, City That Never Sleeps, The Man Who Finally Died. I didn’t get around to reviewing Under Suspicion– a thriller starring Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Monica Bellucci, Thomas Jane… a great cast, but wasted in a pretty lousy film that almost had me hitting that abort button. Only the great Gene Hackman kept me stuck with it: one of my favourite actors.

ohmssRegards re-watches, I managed two. The first was one that…well, we lost Dame Diana Rigg on Thursday, which was an awful shame, and I’ve been meaning to watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service again for awhile now. Its an awful reason for doing it, but Dame Diana Rigg’s passing was the push that I needed; I reached for that Bond 50 Blu-ray set. OHMSS is my favourite Bond movie; its the film when the Bond franchise grew up and yes, graced with the best Bond Girl of all, the one that got Bond to the altar. But what a downer at the end. This time I watched it, it just seemed so remarkable, such brass balls of the producers to close out a film -and a Bond film at that- on such a huge emotional downer. And in a film with a new Bond, too. Talk about loading the dice for a serious gamble, like a real-life Casino Royale moment. Dropping George Lazenby and breaking the continuity (OHMSS really needed such a proper sequel with Bond out for revenge) was a terrible error, I think, and it would take Bond decades to grow those brass balls again.

vertigo1The second re-watch was the 4K UHD disc of Vertigo, that graces the four-film Hitchcock 4K set that was released last week. The film looks utterly gorgeous in 4K, really something special. We’ve seen some great 4K releases for classic films this year and this is one of the best, I think. Mind, is it just me, but as I get older, does Vertigo on subsequent viewings just get more disturbing, and James Stewart’s obsessive Scottie more repellent?  As a deeply flawed character who proves difficult to root for, he reminds me of Robert De Niro’s character in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in America. The difficulty in revisiting films with such doomed, self-destructive characters is that you have to re-experience it all over again, with the knowledge of hindsight that the character itself obviously lacks. There seems something deeply personal, of both Leone and Hitchcock, in these two films, and I’m sure that’s part of each films endless fascination. Glimpses of flawed humanity’s darkness. Vertigo is such a powerful film, exquisitely filmed and scored (by the great Bernard Herrmann), and really so daring, its one of my favourite films and it feels a blessing to be able watch it again in this kind of quality. I’m building quite a collection of (hopefully definitive and final) editions of some of my favourite films in 4K, with some great additions this year.

dunetrailrLast week also brought us the first trailer for Villeneuve’s long-anticipated  Dune. Mind, it seems we will have to wait longer for the film itself, as word has it that the film will be delayed to next year now, with Wonder Woman 1984 being moved to the Christmas Day slot (Tenet‘s box-office woes causing much consternation for a troubled film industry struggling to manage the Covid crisis). Of course the Dune trailer looks great and pretty much everything we might have hoped for. I was a bit surprised that it looked, visually at least, like a Blade Runner 2049 sequel set Off World, it seems to share so much of the monochromatic, brutalist ‘look’ of his previous sci-fi epic. I’d hoped for something a bit wilder, more ‘out there’ and unusual, but we’ll see. There’s so much, after all, that we didn’t see.

Speaking of delays, news broke last week that Vangelis’ latest album, Juno to Jupiter, accidentally released on digital by a UK store over a weekend a few weeks back before being hurriedly pulled, has been officially delayed (again?). This is so frustrating, its a great album, one of his best in decades, but it seems so strangely (and unfairly) blighted by mishaps. Possibly its just a Covid thing effecting marketing etc, but I sincerely hope that perhaps this delay will facilitate a simultaneous physical and digital release, rather than the latter first (which was the original plan, and which possibly led to that premature release foul-up).  Its a great piece of work, and I was gearing up to finish my track-by-track review… well, I’ll just join the pack and let my review suffer another delay. Hey, its just so Covid, man.

I just hope that the Super-Deluxe of the Prince classic album Sign o’ the Times isn’t going to get delayed. Its only two weeks away now so seems to be all on track. Certainly review copies are out and some reviews have been released, track breakdowns on forums etc so my only worry is problems with stores getting stock out. Hope springs eternal- I’m actually on leave from work the week it gets released, and naturally I’m going nowhere, so the opportunity to just relax for a few lazy days, chill with that box of peach and black goodies is the nearest thing to Christmas I’m actually likely to see this year.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

I was rather surprised how successful this was, and how much I enjoyed it. Something of a sequel and reboot for the franchise, following the original three films starring Noomi Rapace and the Western remake of the first of that trilogy,  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by David Fincher that starred Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. Phew, that’s seems a little complicated looking back on it- and rather symptomatic of the state of the film industry these days. Its enough to make this latest film seem rather cynical.

Which does hang over the whole enterprise. Based on a book by David Lagercrantz, in turn based on characters in the original book series by the late Stieg Larsson, the whole thing is an attempt to extend the original book series and films beyond it- a little like James Bond books and films running far beyond the passing of Bond creator Ian Fleming. Characters can so easily gain an immortality of their own far beyond that of original creators, and while it may have noble intentions there is always a sniff of opportunism and money-making in things like this. Its also rather true that in this film, and possibly the original book, there seems a concious intention to shift away from the dark character-based intensity of the Larsson originals and towards a larger espionage/James Bond thriller vibe- perhaps a little like the Jason Bourne franchise. It does feel a little incongruous for Lisbeth here to be drawn into a thriller about a program that can seize control of the world’s nuclear arsenals and leave the world ransom to armageddon- it really does feel more like the plot of a Bond movie.

Which might be a good thing, I don’t know. I certainly quite enjoyed it, because it did seem to be stretching the character a little  and pushing the boundaries- but does it do that too much? I guess that’s more a question for die-hard fans of the Larsson originals to ponder.

Taking over the role of Lisbeth Salander here is Claire Foy, which really seemed a bit of a stretch to me when I became aware of the casting but I have to say it works quite well. There’s a few peculiar moments where Foy seems to suddenly channel the Queen from Netflix’s The Crown (an occasional inflection of her voice, or flash of her eyes, sometimes) but on the whole she’s really intense and surprisingly successful, She manages the physical moments very well too- certainly a far cry from Little Dorrit.

Less successful, and very surprisingly so really, is Sylvia Hoeks as Camilla Salander, the main villain of the film and sister of our heroine. Hoeks was simply brilliant as Luv in BR2049, a really quite complex and nuanced character/performance but here she does seem to simply be a blonde Luv, reprising that role alarmingly in what feels a one-note performance. In Hoeks defence, I suspect it’s more the limitations of the part as written, leaving her little else to really do with it, but its similarity to her character in BR2049 is really disappointing. When I saw her name in the credits my interest in the film was raised considerably as I’ve not seen her in anything else other than BR2049 and I was really curious to see her possibly surprise me, but alas, no, this really is just more of the same.

I gather the box-office returns from this film were quite poor so we are unlikely to see Foy reprise the role in future installments. Perhaps the intent to reboot the series into another film franchise with yet another cast was perceived as cynical and ill-judged, and  got the rewards it deserved.  For myself, the quality of the film (it’s a pretty successful, albeit routine, old-fashioned thriller, and there’s nothing particularly wrong with that in a cinema swamped by superhero caped crusaders etc) seemed pretty decent and I found myself enjoying it much more than I had expected. It does make me wonder if sometimes films such as this might be budgeted too highly – I suppose the purported budget of $43 million might seem fairly low in the great scheme of $150 million blockbusters but its returns of just $35 million (with marketing costs etc the film must have been a bit of a bomb financially) would suggest the market simply isn’t strong enough to support films budgeted like this.  If this is indeed the case then its an unfortunate state of affairs, and possibly suggests this kind of thriller might in future be relegated to Netflix/Amazon productions- which is a little sad, to consider that traditional cinema is no longer the place for thrillers like this.

MI:7 and 8 in 2021 and 2022

Movie Mission Impossible Fallout, Beijing, China - 29 Aug 2018Well, I really didn’t see this coming. Fallout must have been a bigger success than I had thought. Tom Cruise has announced that there will be two more outings for his Mission Impossible franchise, and that they will be shot back to back for release in summers 2021 and 2022. Not only that, but Ghost Recon Protocol, no sorry, try again–  Rogue Nation and Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie has revealed that he has signed up (presumably to both write and direct) both films.

As Fallout was my favourite film of last year this is very welcome news. I’m not sure where this leaves Bond exactly, with that franchise stuttering and floundering, finally rush-releasing (if you can call it that, after a five-year break) Bond 25 next year, with shooting to yet start. This film that will be Daniel Craig’s last outing as Bond, meaning another reboot (or at least the usual casting the next Bond hysterical nonsense) beyond that. In comparison, the MI series seems to be sailing on to bigger and better things, with a creative team confidently in charge.

I assume making two MI films together will enable a really epic, two-part narrative that may very likely complete the Ethan Hunt saga (can’t imagine even the apparently indestructible Tom Cruise has too many more of those physical stunt-ridden projects ahead of him).  Mind, after all the hyperbolics of Fallout, how I would dearly love to be in on the thought-processes involved in somehow topping that film. I’d actually like to see them reign it all in and make the films low-key and more intimate, but this is blockbuster territory so that’s out the window. Maybe some villain is going to threaten to pull the moon down onto America and Hunt has to go up there into space and save the world from Lunar orbit? At this point, not even the sky’s the limit anymore, is it?

Mission: Impossible- Fallout (2018)

mi6Your mission, Mr Cruise, is to make a summer blockbuster better than Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation. Well, this is Mission: Impossible, after all, Mr Cruise, not Mission: Difficult.

Utterly bonkers, and yet almost ridiculously flawless, this astonishing film is surely the blockbuster of the year, possibly the best for the years since the franchise’s previous entry, Rogue Nation. As pure edge-of-your-seat entertainment, its as good as blockbusters get. Thrilling, jaw-dropping, gasp-inducing, exhilarating… word was it would be good, trailers teased something extraordinary, and early reviews seemed to be overwhelmingly positive. Well, here’s a film that lives up to the hype. Sure, there will be some who will somehow be left cold by its charms, but most cinema-goers will leave screenings with big smiles on their faces. As Hollywood entertainment goes, this film delivers a masterclass.

Its madness, really, that a franchise by its sixth entry 22 years old just continues to get better and better. True, it can be said that the last three films have largely followed the same template, but it has to be said, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Instead the production team have just upped the stakes and somehow improved and finessed with each successive effort. A series of films that started in the shadow of Bond seems to have finally beaten Bond and left it behind in the dust.

If I had to fault it, well, I’d say the Hans Zimmer-inspired music score from Lorne Balfe is just a tad overpowering and uninspired; it works okay in the film but it doesn’t really have the finesse of Joe Kraemer’s Rogue Nation score, the lightness of its touch or the sophistication of its orchestration and writing. Balfe’s score screams summer blockbuster at you in its Dark Knight/Inception-style glory and beats you over the head with it. I suppose its just continuing the trend for current Hollywood scores but I think it would have been interesting to hear something a bit more restrained and measured against the films insane visuals and energy.  In many ways Fallout clearly betters Rogue Nation but the score is where it slips up, the one bad decision in the creative process.

Other than that, though, its pretty much a perfect summer blockbuster. The script is great, the stunts and action sequences rattle away with jaw-dropping verve and the cast is pretty much spot-on. As crazy as the spectacle is, its nice to at least feel like it is grounded in some kind of reality, and while I’m sure there are plenty of erased wires and CGI tricks it never feels like a cast of animated CGI doppelgangers leaping around as it does in so  many Marvel/DC actions sequences.  I was a little concerned by some awkward plotting during the first act (when Hunt loses his three plutonium cores) but it was clearly just setting-up the spectacle to follow. I can’t really put my finger on it, but during this section I felt a little nervous that things weren’t quite right- it felt a little contrived, which might well seem an odd criticism for a franchise that is obviously hopelessly contrived. It just didn’t feel quite as smooth as I would have liked, as if a little more polish on the script was needed. But I can excuse fifteen minutes of so-so material when it sets up all the spectacular stuff that follows.

The funny thing is, after the brilliant Rogue Nation, if three years ago I had to make a wish-list  for the sixth entry, it would have been more Solomon Lane, more Ilsa Faust, more chases, more fights, more jaw-dropping stunts, and that’s pretty much what we get with Fallout. Its everything I could have hoped for. Crikey. That Cruise fella may be annoying in the real world but as a movie producer/star he’s pretty damned impressive.

Well, there’s only way to end this review. Your mission, Mr Cruise, is to make a summer blockbuster better than Mission: Impossible- Fallout. Well, this is Mission: Impossible, after all, Mr Cruise, not Mission: Difficult

Sir Roger Moore has died

bondmooreThe news that Sir Roger Moore, famous for playing James Bond, has died, at the grand age of 89, is sad indeed (especially on what has been a pretty grim news day here in the UK anyway). While Moore is not my favourite Bond, the appeal of his humorous, tongue-in-cheek spy is undeniable, particularly now, with Daniel Craig’s gritty, darker Bond inevitably reflecting these darker days we live in. There is a wonderful escapism, a sense of returning to simpler, more innocent times with many of Roger Moore’s Bond films. Which is not to suggest they were simpler films for simpler times. Of course, the real world was pretty rough even then, but those Bond films seem (with hindsight) to have been a reaction to rather than a reflection of, those times, in just the same way perhaps as Star Wars appealed with its own escape from reality. Bond fans were taken all over the world and Bond faced many a peril, but always with an arched eyebrow and sardonic one-liner. Yes, I’m thinking of John Brosnan again- its as if Moore was often winking at the audience and reminding them ‘it’s only a movie’.

Ironically, my own favourite Roger Moore Bond movie has always been For Your Eyes Only, which itself was a reaction to the excesses of the preceding Bond film, Moonraker. It was a more realistic Bond film which had less of the humour and crazy gadgets. But I’m also rather partial to The Spy Who Loved Me, which seems the definitive Roger Moore Bond film. Yes it is daft hokum, but its always charming, in no small way due to Roger Moore. If I had the opportunity (and I have not, unfortunately, as alas real-life rears its ugly head- apologies for sporadic postings of late), I would probably pop The Spy Who Loved Me on tonight. I’m sure many of us could do with an escape into the simpler pleasures of a Roger Moore Bond film these days.

 

Jason Bourne (2016)

jason12016.99: Jason Bourne

I’m rather a fan of the Bourne films- certainly the first three, and the fourth (and first non-Matt Damon outing) The Bourne Legacy had its moments, but it’s now clear that the problems with that flawed fourth entry in the franchise were not unique to itself. This latest film, simply titled Jason Bourne, sees the welcome return of both Matt Damon in the title role and also celebrated director Paul Greengrass, but alas it carries many of the problems of that fourth film which at the time were perhaps shrugged aside as simply being the by-product of not having Damon or Greengrass involved.

Sadly, this film has none of the energy and freshness of the first three films, with few surprises (and some of those unwelcome). Instead its a tired and surprisingly unimaginative retread of so much that has gone before, to the degree that it almost feels like a reboot rather than a continuation of the saga. Perhaps thats simply another indication of safety-concious Hollywood and its unwillingness sometimes to really stretch a franchise away from the familiar – a criticism that could well be laid at the feet of the rival series of James Bond films.

Perhaps its due to the length of time between the previous Greenhouse-helmed and Damon-starring entry, but  there’s certainly an element of doubt and lack of conviction about this effort. Dare I say it almost feels like a cash-grab? To fans such as myself, that’s the worst thing of all regards this film- in anycase, its woefully overfamiliar: Jason Bourne is living a life ‘under the radar’ until he is again brought under the gaze of the CIA and factions within it that need Bourne silenced/terminated, an ensuing chase around the world with Bourne at odds with elaborate high-tech surveillance tech in his search for a hidden truth about his past (in this case, the particularly awkward introduction of his dead father and Bourne’s search for justice/revenge).  It almost feels like a ‘Greatest Hits’ package of elements from each of first three films: Bourne resurfaces, he’s abetted by ‘honest’ CIA staff, he has to avenge the death of his wife (father here), the head of the CIA is corrupt, the odds are against him but Bourne stays one step ahead, the tech fails in the face of the human element, Bourne goes back under the radar. I’m sure I’m not spoiling anything- you really have seen it all before.

Worse, the execution itself feels rather uninspired, with action scenes and stunts all sadly inferior to those of the first three films. Its a frankly disappointing effort and while some fans will enjoy the familiarity of the returning characters and themes, I’m sure that most, like me, will feel rather let-down by the distinct lack of originality. The Bourne films have been a welcome alternative (and some would argue a needed kick in the teeth) to the Bond films, and it’s odd to see the Bourne films in something of a creative crisis at the same time as the Bond films seem to be suffering from one.Maybe its a general issue with the spy-thriller genre in the wake of the spectacles of the superhero films that dominate the screen these days. Or maybe the recent Mission: Impossible films are having an impact on Bourne as clearly as they are the Bond films. I do hope the Bourne films can continue, particularly with Damon as he’s clearly a great action hero in these, but perhaps with the next film a fresh approach can revitalise it. It certainly needs something.

 

 

Mr Holmes (2015)

holmes2016.36: Mr Holmes (Amazon Prime/VOD)

In many ways, this film isn’t really a Sherlock Holmes film, its more a character piece examining the difficulties of old age and failing memory. For fans of the character though it’s likely a very nice coda to his (fictional) life-story.  Mr Holmes imagines the master detective living to the ripe old age of 93, and living in a world quite unlike that of his earlier adventures. It is 1947, and Holmes is living in an anonymous  coastal countryside retreat with a widowed housekeeper and her young son. Holmes is preoccupied with his very last case from thirty years before, with his failing memory making it seemingly impossible to piece it together. His fractured recollections are told in flashback, as is a further plotline of more recent memories of a trip to Japan in search of a plant that can be used as a medicinal drug.

This latter sub-plot is troublesome for the film and largely turns out to be of such little benefit to the film that it could well have been dropped entirely. The film would have been all the better for more focus on the 1947  ‘present’ and the subsequent untangling of the mysteries of Holmes final case.Having this secondary series of flashbacks (the two plotlines running through the film as a separate series of flashbacks) might work well in a book but in a film can damage any pace or progress of the seperate arcs.

Ian McKellen does remarkable work playing two Sherlock Holmes-  one a 93 year-old struggling with losing his faculties and the other a 60 year-old still in his detective ‘prime’ on his final case. Its a great performance (augmented by some great make-up) that raises the film to something greater than its parts. If it were just a film about an old man struggling with losing his mind and questions of identity and fading memory it would still be a very good film- the fact that the main character is Sherlock Holmes, with all the literary and cinematic baggage that entails, makes its quite a powerful experience and a fulfilling film.

It isn’t perfect – I have those mentioned issues with that plotline set in Japan- but it’s certainly  a very worthwhile film, and I’m sure rather poignant for fans of the character. Its certainly more complex and thoughtful than I had expected. It left me wondering about perhaps someone making a similar film one day about another famous fictional character, James Bond; a film of an old, physically impaired spy looking back on his career and one particular mission (particularly if his ‘missions’ took place in the 1960s of the original films) might make for a very interesting film too. Maybe there will be an opportunity for something like that someday.

Never Say Never Again (1983)

never1.png2016.16: Never Say Never Again (Network Airing, HD)

It never feels like a ‘proper’ Bond film. For one thing, there’s no pre-credit gun barrel shot, and there’s no elaborate credit sequence with a Bond song… well, there’s a song, but it’s hardly a Bond song -although to be fair, that could also be said of many Bond songs since (whilst on the subject of the music, the score by Michel Legrand is an awful misjudgement throughout the film). But anyway, from the start it all just ‘feels’ wrong, that insipid song playing over the uninspired credits whilst we see Bond at work on what turns out to be a training exercise (although I pity the poor guys ‘dispatched’ by Bond, as I think the old codger forgets its playtime and goes at them for real). From that faltering start (remember those great pre-title action sequences Bond films have? Well, this one doesn’t) the film stumbles on.

Anyway, here we are folks, I’ve finally gotten around to this, the one Bond film I hadn’t yet seen. I almost wish I hadn’t bothered really as it pretty much equalled my (very low) expectations.

About the only thing interesting about Never Say Never Again is Connery returning to the character (having previously quit, twice) for his seventh and final Bond film. Beyond that, well, there’s little at all. I guess it is commendable that the subject of Connery’s age, and by inference that of Bond (Connery was 52 at time of filming), is at least alluded to, with Bond failing the training exercise (impaled by a woman, how ironic) and being put into a health spa at the start of the film. The idea of Bond being too old and possibly being put out to pasture would be expanded to better effect in Skyfall many years later, but I guess this film got there first.

Recently there has been something of a critical backlash against Spectre, the latest Bond entry. Clearly Spectre has its problems, but comments suggesting its one of the worst Bond entries are rather wide of the mark, and anyone making such comments should really take a look at Never Say Never Again.  Any Bond film that has a major ‘dramatic conflict’ sequence in which Bond and the villain play a videogame (oh, so ‘eighties!) has to be seen to be believed (on the subject of seeing is believing, I was amazed when I saw on the credits that the film was directed by Irvin Kershner , who had directed The Empire Strikes Back a few years earlier. Part of me still can’t believe it).

To be fair, it was a bad time for Bond films in general. That same year Roger Moore’s Bond was depicted disarming a nuclear bomb whilst dressed as a clown in Octopussy, a definitive series lowpoint if ever there was one. I have a suspicion that Never Say Never Again may be more sophisticated than I am giving it credit for, and that some of the in-jokes/humor is quite deliberate. I have the impression that there is a distinct element of camp in the film- having seen Lorenzo Semple’s name on the credits I wasn’t surprised to see more than just a whiff of the 60s Batman and the 1980 Flash Gordon in there, as if Semple was deliberately poking fun at it all. I suspect that if watched as a parody the film probably works better. Certainly some of the casting works this way, even unintentionally, like the casting of Mr Bean as Bond’s contact in the Bahamas. Humour in Bond films always treads close to the line but in this it really slips over it, as if it is deconstructing the Bond films and their tropes. The villains murderous right-hand woman, the sadomasochistic Fatima Blush, is first seen in nurses uniform beating a patient in the health spa. Later, when she has eventually cornered Bond, rather than kill him she demands that he sign a note in writing to affirm that she was his “number one” sexual partner-  Bond uses his Q-Branch fountain pen to shoot her with an explosive dart and she literally explodes. How I laughed. Bond then goes for a bike ride in his string vest and underpants (no, really).

never3

Incredibly, at the time Never Say Never Again was held in some regard, with some reviews stating it was one of the best Bond films up to that time, and financially it was something of a hit and made a tidy profit. I guess this is the trouble with me watching it so many years later- out of the context of the time it was made/released it just looks terrible to me now, but maybe back then… I don’t know. I just can’t see it. It’s either a terrible Bond movie or a fantastic parody, I’m just not sure which.

Licence To Kill (1989)

bond50Hot on the heels of the generally fine but flawed The Living Daylights, comes Timothy Dalton’s second and sadly last outing as secret agent James Bond (that said, some hardcore Bond fans may have some cause to consider Dalton as never truly being Bond, particularly in this vengeance-themed story- he’s hardly doing his duty for his country here, its all strictly personal and contrary to orders).

Licence To Kill is a film about revenge and its consequences. The film greatly benefits from having the one thing Dalton’s previous entry sorely lacked- a really great villain, and with drug baron Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) the film has one of Bond’s very best. Captured in the film’s first action sequence by Bond’s  CIA buddy Felix Leiter (David Hedison), Sanchez breaks out of police custody and gets his bloody revenge on Felix.  Felix’s wife is murdered (and possibly raped/tortured in the process but that’s not really elaborated) and Felix himself nearly tortured to death by being fed to a shark.  Bond goes after Sanchez, seeking revenge of his own and defying MI6 orders. Bond is working outside of British Intelligence, ignoring the fact that he has been stripped of his licence to kill. Its a cold, ruthless Bond here, one far removed from that of Roger Moore’s outings, a Bond that plays to Dalton’s strengths and reduces the weaknesses shown in his previous Bond entry (his awkward romancing for instance- Dalton’s Bond is a colder hero, far from the ‘smooth-operator’ of Moore).

Continuing the films huge improvements over The Living Daylights, we get two great Bond girls- Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), an associate of Felix who assists Bond in his pursuit of Sanchez, and Lupe Lamora (Taliso Soto), Sanchez’s reluctant girlfriend. Both women are excellent, more than just beautiful eye-candy, they both move the plot forward, something that can’t always be said of Bond films before or since. The physicality of the film is something that wouldn’t return until the Daniel Craig editions. Bond is beaten and bleeding as a result of his many fights and stunts here, certainly shaken and stirred if you will forgive the pun. Yes its violent but its a violence with consequences as opposed to the cartoon-like escapades of, say, the Roger Moore films.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film and will go so far as to say that its one of my favourite Bond films. It’s just such a shame that outside forces would give the franchise severe problems that resulted in Dalton’s tenure as Bond being over. What might that third Dalton film have been? We’ll sadly never know. In a way its OHMSS all over again. The Bond series breaking bounds only to fall back into the ‘comfort-zone’ of past entries.